Roundtable discussions for the national Women’s Safety Summit are kicking off on Thursday, and women’s safety experts have come together with 12 key actions they say must be the starting point for the government.
In a joint open letter, signed by over 205 organisations and thousands of individuals, women’s safety experts have laid out their expectations that these 12 actions must be committed to by the government by the end of the summit next week.
The open letter has been sent to all members of the National Women’s Safety Taskforce including Anne Ruston and Marise Payne, who will deliver the closing address at the summit.
“Experts across Australia have laid out a blue print for a safer future,” Jacqui Watt, CEO of No To Violence said.
“These are clear foundations that the Government should be locking in for the next National Plan immediately. Too many women’s loves have been stolen from them. Our communities need action that matches the scale of this problem and the Summit is a pivotal opportunity for government across the country to act.”
The start of the Summit comes one day after the federal government thwarted an attempt by Labor and the Greens to change the Respect@Work legislation, to include a positive duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in workplaces. The change was recommended by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins in her Respect@Work report.
The 12 key actions called for in the open letter include:
Build stronger foundations in our community to prevent violence before it starts
Our values and beliefs, and our attitudes to women, gender diverse people, children and families all contribute to people using gendered violence. Governments must expand support for primary prevention initiatives that reach people where they live, learn, work and socialise with programmes that target gender inequity and attitudes of entitlement and disrespect, and expand the focus on evidence-based efforts to prevent sexual violence.
Prioritise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community led initiatives
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are already leading work to resist the intersecting impacts of gendered violence, colonisation and racism; governments need to invest in their leadership. Self-determined, community-led solutions and services must be prioritised within the new national plan; including investment in Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations.
Increase capacity across our communities to recognise and respond to early signs of abuse
Our family, friends, neighbours and social/community services should be given the resources to be able to recognise the signs of abuse and know how to support access to appropriate services. Across our communities, we need to identify violence and abuse quickly, to be better able to respond and intervene before crisis situations. That means strategies and investment in services across all sectors to support families and individuals as soon as problematic behaviour is identified.
Increase and extend investment in specialist support services
We need to invest in the specialist workforce that helps those affected by gender-based violence manage their safety and to build safer futures. The number of people seeking help has increased, and services need to be resourced to ensure everyone reaching out for assistance can access the support they need to be safe and recover. That funding should be extended to match the length of the national plan.
Increase and expand the focus on sexual violence
Rape and other acts of sexual violence have profound, life-long consequences for survivors, often including physical disabilities and mental health conditions. Yet our prevention infrastructure and support services are not resourced to adequately support survivors’ safety, and systems too often fail to hold perpetrators to account. Our National Plan needs to increase and improve prevention, support and recovery; for victim-survivors of all ages; and in all settings – including institutional settings. The new national plan must include specific, measurable actions that are appropriate for all communities.
Shift the burden to the person who uses violence
Victim-survivors of violence have too long been expected to shoulder the burden of managing their safety – expected to leave their homes and communities, facing extra financial pressure and being pushed to place their privacy and well-being at risk in family and criminal courts. We should instead shift more of the focus and burden of consequences on the person who uses violence, and increase interventions to change their behaviour, and training to enable better risk-identification to prevent ongoing or escalated violence.
Recognise children and young people as victims in their own right
Significant research has shown the long-term impacts on children and young people who have experienced and witnessed family violence. Children and young people must be recognised as victims so the support system can support their recovery. Unique supports are required to respond to children affected by gender-based violence.
Expand research to build evidence-based services
Australia has a strong research community around family, domestic and sexual violence, that must be built upon – including more work around working with children and young people; improving responses to sexual violence; understanding the needs and gaps to ensure response systems work for everyone, including marginalised communities; interventions with men who use violence and abuse; and evaluation.
Reform the Family Law system
Systems must be improved to ensure that they able to keep people safe, provide responses to family violence that are appropriate, ensure those working in the system have an understanding of the dynamics of family violence, and that effective legal help is available for those who need it most.
Tailor initiatives and responses to community needs
Everyone, no matter their race, age, ethnicity, gender and disability deserves access to appropriate services. Funding must be increased for specialist women’s services, community-led and community-based organisations, and to build the capacity of mainstream organisations to respond safely and effectively to all people.
Expand victim-survivor choice and control through expanded pathways for support and accountability beyond police and criminal courts
Victim-survivors should have a choice around the responses and mechanisms that best serve their safety, wellbeing and healing. Someone’s ability to access safety and accountability should not require them to pursue criminal or police intervention, that may increase their exposure to trauma and harm. The next National Plan should include funding for piloting accountability and intervention approaches that sit beside or outside the criminal justice system.
Invest in programmes with long-term funding, to give them enough time to work
Short funding cycles put pressure on services, and don’t allow initiatives to reach their full potential. Funding needs to be longer term so that services that can build strong, specialist and sustainable workforces that can build expertise and and plan proper delivery of services.